Some Singaporean Muslims Worried Over Anti-Islam Backlash

After the terrorist attacks in Paris made headlines around the world, SIM Global Education student Ms Nur Elyana Amir, 20, found herself having to fend off insensitive remarks from her schoolmates.

“People in school were looking at me (differently) just because I was wearing a tudung. Everything (to do) with ISIS, they would associate with me … they would ask ‘Eh why Muslim all like that, why Muslim do it’… They don’t know that this doesn’t represent Islam,” she said.

Ms Elyana was among the respondents in a TODAY straw poll to find out Singaporeans’ attitudes towards terrorism. Discussing their concerns about the impact of a terrorist attack should it occur in Singapore, a few Muslim respondents cited their worries that the community could be scrutinised and face a possible backlash. Others, however, expressed confidence that Singaporeans from various communities will stay united.

Ms Erin, 30, a sales and marketing executive, said that some people were quick to associate Muslims here with the actions of the terrorist group Islamic State.

“We don’t go around trying to destroy your homes or have intentions to do suicide bombings,” she said. “(Some) Singaporeans are quite narrow-minded, they are not very informed or they don’t really understand what our religion is about.”

Nevertheless, teacher Syafiq Rafid, 26, said that while he would be concerned about his “social standing as a Malay and Muslim” in the event of an attack, he was confident that non-Muslims would not point fingers at the community. “I’d like to have faith in my fellow countrymen and (believe) we are able to pick up the pieces,” he said.

Executive Noraini Hussin, 30, also said that she was confident that Singaporeans would recognise that “terrorism” has nothing to do with Islam.

Citing her own experience of being taught in both a Christian school and the madrasah, she said, “I’m pretty confident that Singapore will be able to recover quickly and that everyone is able to band together. After enjoying social and racial harmony for so long, we are that close.”

Terrorism experts, including Mr Joseph Franco, an associate research fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, felt that Singapore’s multiculturalism built up over the decades would stand it in good stead should a terrorist attack occur here. “If it was something contrived, (Singapore) would have collapsed a long time ago,” Mr Franco said.

Even so, community and religious leaders said more can be done to strengthen social cohesion. Mr Alla’udin Bin Mohamed, vice-chairman of Geylang Serai Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCC), said that more discussions within the Muslim community should be encouraged. More activities should be organised for people of various races to mingle and forge friendships, he added.

Mr Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib, interfaith activist and founding member of Leftwrite Center, said there are pockets of Singaporeans who hold stereotypes and prejudices, which could flare up during conflicts.

Opportunities should be created for people to discuss complex issues such as religious extremism openly and frankly, with a facilitator to moderate such discussions, he said.

“Such intercultural communication can clarify and correct presumptions and prejudices while creating bonds of friendship,” he added.

Mr Zainal Sapari, a Member of Parliament for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, said that people of all races need to be more pro-active in speaking out against hateful comments on social media, while teachers and school counsellors should use the Paris attacks as a “learning opportunity” to teach young minds about terrorism and address wrong perceptions.

“If not, it could create real fault lines in society and start off the blame game… As a society, everyone needs to own the problem,” he said.



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